When a Stranger Who Lost His Own Child Helped My Kids


“I wish I didn’t even have a sister!” my 7-year old son, Raphael, screams as he stomps up the stairs.

Sigh.

This day is going south fast. I’m already feeling stressed by my far-too-long holiday to-do list. And I have less time, because I was crazy enough to let the kids talk me into homeschooling this year. Homeschooling… what was I thinking? I drop a stack of bills and rush into the hallway, just as my daughter, Amara, has tears welling up in her eyes.

“Aww, listen, honey,” I say as I put my arm around her small shoulders. “Your little brother says things when he’s angry that he doesn’t mean. He loves you, you know that.” She swallows hard, trying not to cry, then looks up at me unconvinced. I know I have to deal with my son’s outburst, but I also know we all need time to calm down. Glancing at the dog asleep on the carpet, I get an idea, “Oh look, the dog needs to go for a walk.”

Out in the sun, tempers cool. The kids decide to ride their bikes, taking advantage of a rare snowless week in December. As we round the boardwalk by a nearby lake, we’re all feeling better — even our 10-year-old golden retriever has some extra pep in her step. We cut back through town with its quaint shops and holiday cheer. But then our picturesque scene suddenly cuts to something darker. Raphael bobbles and accidentally swerves sharply into Amara. He falls hard on the cement, and she crashes down on top of him, a tangle of legs and pedals and wheels. As I rush to help, I hear Raphael start to cry and Amara call out his name. I brace myself for harsh, blaming words, but instead I only hear her concern, “Are you all right? Are you OK?”

Still pinned underneath her bike, Amara manages to reach her arms around Raphael and support his head. As I struggle to know where to start, I look up and see a man already helping. “Thank you,” I rasp, as he gently lifts Amara’s bike, freeing her legs. Raphael’s ankle is caught in the spokes, and the man helps me carefully pry him loose, and swoops his bike out of the way. Amara pulls her brother to his feet, and he immediately wraps his arms around her, burying his head in her coat. I check both of them: no cuts, no blood, both kids are OK, just stunned. I breathe a sigh of relief and thank the man again for his help.

“Children are a blessing,” he says with a smile, and then adds quietly, “I lost one of mine.” I look into his face fully for the first time and see the deep lines engraved on his forehead. They reveal both grief and grace. “I’ll never stop being a parent though,” he adds. “And I still have a child. That’s a blessing too.”

I nod in agreement and smile. Of all the people out on the sidewalk, this man who has known such pain was the first to help lessen ours. But isn’t that how life works sometimes? From a place of brokenness, we find our deepest compassion. I think of my husband and our brokenness after losing three babies in two pregnancies. Wasn’t that what gave us the courage to be the shoulder to cry on for other couples?

“You kids take care of your mom now, OK?” the man calls out with a friendly wave, before turning and walking away. I stand there for a moment collecting myself but feel in no hurry to go anywhere or do anything. I realize deeply the gift I have just been given: that I don’t have to rush around. We already have everything we need.

two children smiling outside
The kids decide to walk their bikes home. As we make our way, I share what’s on my mind, “You know that man who helped us? He had a child who died.”

“That’s so sad,” Amara says softly. “How?”

“I don’t know. But he must have had two children, because one is still alive.” Raphael looks stricken. He turns to his sister and slowly reaches out his hand. All is forgiven as she clasps his small hand in hers. They continue to hold hands as we slowly maneuver the bikes. It takes us a long time to walk home like this, but that’s all we have is time. This time, this moment, to be here now, to enjoy all the blessings we already have.

the author and her family

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